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Graduate to Watch: Fiona Cartmel, Edinburgh College of Art

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Sustainable fashion was at the forefront of this year’s Graduate Fashion Week with numerous graduates producing stunning and innovative collections, with Fiona Cartmel from Edinburgh College of Art leading the pack with her collection featuring waste fabrics from hundreds of companies.

Cartmel was awarded the Vivienne Westwood Ethical Award for her 100 percent haute couture-inspired sustainable collection, and the designer also came third place in the Burberry Fashion Design competition securing herself a paid, three-month internship. FashionUnited talked to the talented designer about her collection, why sustainable fashion matters, as well as her plans for the future.

Why did you want to be a fashion designer?

“I was inspired by my design and technology teacher at school who encouraged us to stretch the boundaries and exposed us to numerous design approaches. She was also the first to introduce me to the idea of ethical fashion, showing us a video about how cotton was manufactured and the environmental and social impact of this. From this point, I always wanted to work in fashion and to make a positive impact within it.”

What was the inspiration for your graduate collection?

“The two main research themes of my collection were utilising waste within the fashion industry and the artistic movement Vortisim (1914). The artists celebrated speed and machines, expressing the dynamism of the modern world through strong lines.”

What fabrics/techniques did you use?

“I contacted hundreds of companies asking for them to send me anything they deemed as waste; damaged fabrics, offcuts, selvedge edge from the manufacture and broken plastic garment bags. I then regenerated these through smocking them, creating textural, interesting materials. I also used a variety of waste fabrics.”

Why was it important for your brand/collection to be sustainable?

“The need for considering sustainability within design is growing in importance. For me, sustainability has been a key focus for me since school. The use of this waste not only enabled my fabrics to have a positive effect on the environment, but also exposes the fact that so much beautiful and very usable fabrics are discarded by the industry.”

What are the signature piece/pieces?

“My cream linen dress - it sympathetically uses the pleated fabrics to create something understated but beautiful.”

Did you enjoy your Graduate Fashion Week experience?

“It was an incredible week. I enjoyed being able to see other university’s work and connect with other designer’s with similar interests. It was amazing to be able to showcase my collection in such a great location and atmosphere.”

Why did you choose to study at Edinburgh College of Art?

“Edinburgh is such an encouraging university, allowing us to follow our own interests and the fashion department is the epitome of this. I have taken full advantage of everything Edinburgh has to offer, even taking an elective course in Sustainable Development.”

What was the most valuable thing you learned on your course?

“That you should take risks and stick to your ethics. Individuality is key in the industry and Edinburgh really focused on this.”

What do you wish you had been told before you started your degree?

“Push yourself, take risks and above all enjoy your experience. University is the perfect time to experience new things, so join societies and sports teams, you won't regret it.”

What are your plans now that you've graduated?

“I am headed for London for two internships, one with Burberry and then other with Vivienne Westwood.”

Have you undergo any other design placements?

“I worked for an ethical bag company in Ghana called Trashy Bags who made bags out of waste plastics. It showed me that you can create beautiful thing pieces without compromising your ethics.”

What advice would you give someone considering studying fashion?

“It’s not easy and anyone who doesn’t study design will not understand why you work so hard, but it is so worth it.”

What designers/labels do you most admire?

“I think Vivienne Westwood is the most inspirational designer. A company with such a strong ethos that creates some of the most inspirational pieces.”

Images: Courtesy of Fiona Cartmel

Graduate Fashion Week
graduate to watch